One thing which has emerged in the 21st century with regards to business, is that if you’re not ready to change and tack with the wind, you’re probably not going to survive into the next decade. The buzz word is innovate – but how do you do that? And what is the intensity of application?

We often hear the term ‘think outside the box’ but sometimes that is really hard, because so much change has already been effected and there’s no point changing for change’s sake. Sometimes change is too much effort, and the maxim: ‘we’ve always done it this way’ overrides any new perspective.

What is innovation?

Innovation is not necessarily creativity, which implies something completely new. Innovation means looking at what you do, and reimagining it in a different way – a more useful way that will create speed and cost-efficiency, drive productivity and performance.

So, you’ve already got the product, the process, the customers – maybe you don’t even need to re-invent the wheel, you just need to make things work better, such as bringing a new aspect or service offering to your business. That idea could simmer off what already is working, creating a better experience for either your staff or customers, or both.  In simple terms, it means creating more effective processes, improving services, or creating dynamic products that will blow your customers away.

Innovation spills out into the market place and makes you more visible, more relevant and more profitable. That’s why it has to be part of your strategy: innovation prepares you for change, it gives you vision; don’t dodge the future, embrace it. Don’t keep up with current trends, get ahead of them. In fact, set them. Stay ahead of your competition as trends, technology and markets shift.

So how does innovation help your business – how do you do it?

Problem-solving: it works well with this. If you’re constantly thinking of improvements, then problems become part of the creative process, and as you plan, ideas formulate and motivate. Now, not every idea is a pearl of wisdom – but it is wisdom that will let you find the difference. If you’re open to ideas, problems become easier to handle.

Streamline: there is no better way to find opportunity to innovate than following a decluttering process, drilling down to the core of your business, and reworking up again. This is the way to think smarter and work more efficiently because you will see elements that can be cut out, revamped, or even automated. Clear out what bogs you down, and productivity will increase.

Investigate technology: in today’s world there is literally a technical solution to every problem. Innovation means keeping up to date with change in the spheres of manufacturing, Information technology, engineering, and new software applications.

Marketing: are you still plodding the same old route with your marketing? Is your logo old and out of date?  Do you need to rebrand, develop new products, engage with your customers in a more effective way? Marketing probably offers you the biggest opportunity for innovation. This is the chance to surprise your customers, make them feel special and appreciated. You need to continually bring a new look to your marketing to keep in vogue, to be unexpected and fascinating. Why not? There’s always a way to refashion your marketing techniques and keep your customers on their toes.

Continuous Improvement: this can sound challenging – how do you continuously improve? Strategy covers all aspects of your business from organisational structuring, to packaging, branding, employee training, and improving existing business procedures. In other words, wherever you are instigating change and development, you are innovating. It should never end, because as soon as you ease up, your competitor can slip ahead.

Branding: is always part of your marketing strategy, and keeps you at the forefront of change. Put your brand ahead of the others – not purely through marketing, but also by growing it through customer engagement, social responsibility programmes, new products and offering the best employee experience. Your brand is the image of your company – make it relevant everywhere through clever advertising, storytelling and customer rewards.

Motivating staff: going to work should be exciting and fulfilling. Staff that are kept up to date with training and rewarded for good service, as well as adding to the profitability of the company, will remain loyal and pass on their good vibes to your customers. Harvest their ideas for improvements as well, give them the opportunity to participate – after all, they are at the coalface of interaction with customers and will know where improvements to systems could be made. Don’t lay systems on the staff – get them to contribute to systems that suit the workflow.

Being different: is a key aspect of innovation. Not much point in thinking up something fabulous if somebody else has already done it. One of the best ways to be different is to value add in a unique way – and there’s really only one way to do that: design a product or experience that is simply outstanding for clients. Most people don’t want gifts, they want a good experience when they engage with you – whether directly through a service or through the reliability of your product. Make sure the difference is what they want to pay for.

The value of disruption: innovation can help you create it, or prepare you for the challenge. Business today has to develop an entrepreneurial stance to be ready for the new young upstart on the block or ever-changing customer demands. Being innovative means being aware of what’s happening around you; be ready to listen, adapt and partner wherever you can to increase the efficiency of your business. Volatility can be dangerous for the unwary – but for those with the drive and energy to continually innovate, change is exhilarating.